Monday, October 10, 2016

Middle Tennesseans to Celebrate Captain Tom Ryman's 175th Birthday at Fort Negley on March 12

            NASHVILLE, Tenn. (September 2016) – Middle Tennesseans will celebrate the 175th birthday of legendary riverboat Captain Tom Ryman -- the man who built the Union Gospel Tabernacle (now the Ryman Auditorium) -- during a celebration at historic Fort Negley on Oct. 12 (Wednesday).

            "Remembering Captain Tom Ryman" will kick off at 2 p.m. with the reading of a proclamation signed by Nashville Mayor Megan Barry naming Oct. 12 as "Captain Tom Ryman Day". The proclamation will be read by the bill's sponsor, Metro Nashville Councilman Brett Withers. Attendees also will enjoy monologues and music from the musical stage play, "The Ryman Diaries", featuring actor/playwrights Tom Dolan and Debbie Mathis Watts. The historical drama depicts the life and times of the Cumberland riverboat captain through the eyes of his wife, Bettie Baugh Ryman. Watts (i.e. Bettie) will close the event by serving guests Tom Ryman's favorite dessert, homemade Hazelnut Tarts.

            Captain Tom Ryman Day will continue at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a special dinner-show performance of "The Ryman Diaries at Miss Jeanne's Mystery Dinner Theatre, 2416 Music Valley Drive. To learn more or buy tickets, call (615) 902-9566 or visit

            "This is a great opportunity for Tennesseans to honor the life of a man who helped lay the musical foundation for Middle Tennessee," said Watts, whose play is based on her book, "The Rymans: Reflections and Recipes". "He had such a phenomenal financial success with his fleet of packet boats on the Cumberland River."

            Admission to "Remembering Captain Tom Ryman" is free for all ages. Fort Negley is located at 1100 Fort Negley Blvd. near downtown Nashville. For more information, visit

            Dolan, who first portrayed Ryman for Gaylord Entertainment, considers it a "deep honor to revive this portrayal of the Nashville icon."

            Ryman, who was born on Oct. 12, 1841, used his fortune to fund construction of the Union Gospel Tabernacle after his Christian conversion at a tent meeting led by the Rev. Sam Jones. He also wanted to invite the world’s greatest musical acts to perform in the acoustically perfect concert hall. The building opened to great fanfare in 1892, but as long as the captain lived, he would never allow the building to bear his name. However, upon his death in 1904, the building was immediately renamed in his honor the Ryman Auditorium.

            During its early days, the landmark drew some of the biggest names in show business, including Mae West, Rudolph Valentine and W.C. Fields. It served as the home of Trevecca Nazarene University from 1911 to 1914 and the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974.

            Earlier this year, Watts contacted the mayor's office to see if the city would consider naming Oct. 12 Captain Tom Ryman Day. Withers introduced a bill in the Metro Council.

            Portions of "The Ryman Diaries" historical play will be presented to give attendees the opportunity to learn more about Tom and Bettie Ryman. Watts and Dolan have staged their production at a host of venues across Middle Tennessee.

            "Both Bettie and Tom had the hearts of musicians, so it was totally fitting that they would play and sing," Watts added.

            During her research at the Metropolitan Library Archives and the Tennessee State Library Archives, she discovered a "remarkable" love story. Their chemistry seemed to jump out from 19th Century photos. The play presents a give and take from the captain and Bettie's diaries, documenting some of the same events from totally different viewpoints. The captain loved music because he wanted the Gospel Tabernacle to be a concert hall for the world's great musicians, as well as a house of worship.

            Individuals also can celebrate Captain Ryman's 175th birthday by attending "The Ryman Diaries" dinner-show at Miss Jeanne's Mystery Dinner Theatre on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 12 or 16. Showtimes are 7 p.m. (dinner) and 8 p.m. (show) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. (brunch) and 2:30 p.m. (show) on Sunday. There will be a special school matinee at 2 p.m. Oct. 7 (Friday). To learn more or buy tickets, call (615) 902-9566 or visit

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